A month ago, I was a panelist at a gathering of professional women, and there I mentioned I didn’t think leadership always meant being at the front of the line. Sometimes, leadership meant standing back and enabling others to achieve their goals — the position a mother might assume with her toddler as the child takes its first steps. Enabling others develops trust and creates a bond between equals where dominance has no place. Women understand this form of leadership as an extension of mothering but men understand it too. Some of the greatest enablers were men: Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and Martin Luther King quickly come to mind.
In today’s world, the Dali Lama and Oprah Winfrey are honored for their charitable spirits. In contrast, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin are known for their willingness to crush their opponents. Power of the latter sort tends to breed more enemies than friends.
Both forms of leadership, enabling and dominance, stem from aspects of pride. (“Pride and Power,” by Jessica L. Tracy, American Scientific Mind, Nov/Dec. 2013 pgs. 66-68) The source of pride that the Dali Lama and Oprah reflect is the result of their self-acceptance, each possessing a confidence that generates a desire “to help and advise others.” (Ibid pg. 67) The second type of pride derives from unconscious insecurities and spawns a concomitant impulse to denigrate “less powerful individuals so as to feel better about oneself. (Ibid pg. 67)
Most of us have met and can recognize these two forms of leadership, having benefitted or suffered from encounters with each. Which style of leadership society wants to cultivate is for us to decide. We can create collaborators or bullies. To do either, we begin with the way we treat our children. We can provide environments where they feel good about themselves and so feel good about others. Or we can limit our view of leadership to a game of winners and losers, a world where there is room for only one at the top.
I vote for a larger playing field. I vote for leading from behind.
(Courtesy of ww.w.drmindbodyisin.com)